EDITOR's NOTE: Wee Beastie is now available here.
Earlier this year in late-March, when regular life as we knew it was fast-changing due to COVID-19 and South Africans were facing their new reality of lockdown restrictions and an alcohol ban, came exciting news from Ardbeg about a new release: Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 Year Old.
You'd be forgiven for missing the announcement considering the circumstances at the time. Surprisingly enough, and pleasantly so, Ardbeg went ahead with the release as planned, and even more surprising is that the release is destined for South Africa and will be available within a month (give or take a few weeks).
The expression joins the Ardbeg core range as a permanent release - meaning there will be enough available for everyone to buy, so there is no need to panic and worry that you may miss out!
THE WEE WHISKY
Wee Beastie is matured in a combination of bourbon barrels and Oloroso sherry butts, is non-chillfiltered and bottled at 47.4%. What stands out most for this shiny new release, is the fact that it bears an age-statement, and a rather younger one than we are accustomed to seeing these days.
The whisky is a 5 year old, and proudly displays its age on the label. In this regard, I say respect! to Ardbeg for being transparent about the younger nature of this whisky and being confident enough to know that although a portion of whisky lovers (mistakenly) covet nothing but age, most Ardbeg fans will not care; peat fans know that the younger the whisky the more punchy the smoke, and informed whisky drinkers (should) know by now, that age is only one factor amongst many when it comes to producing quality whisky.
Sidebar: The valid criticism of no-age-statement (NAS) whiskies over the last several years was not that they became more prolific but that their prices were not aligned to the youthfulness of the whisky. As long as the price is in line with the age, younger whiskies, including NAS, have a place on our shelves and in our glasses. Regarding the price, Wee Beastie passes the test with an expected retail price tag around R600, making it the introductory expression in the range price-wise.
THE BEAST GROWS
Wee Beastie follows relatively soon after An Oa, which hit SA shelves in 2018. Thereafter Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19yo was announced in 2019 (nowhere in sight yet for South Africans). Keeping in mind that the last expression before An Oa, was Corryvreckan way back in 2009, the team at Ardbeg HQ have been busy over the last three years! With the release of Wee Beastie, the brand has doubled its core range, from three to six expressions, over a relatively short period of time. The fact that this coincides with the distillery's recent completion of its expansion, which doubles the production capacity to 2.4M litres (of pure alcohol) per year, is not by chance.
Globally the brand has gone from strength-to-strength since the distillery's reopening 20 years ago, assisted by quality marketing, including the annual Ardbeg Day celebrations accompanied by the playful releases and Ardbeg Embassies. Lastly, but most importantly, the quality of the liquid inside the bottle is excellent - assuming you enjoy peated whiskies.
You are likely to start seeing Wee Beastie available in the country as of this week, as a small number of "pre-launch" cases have been made available to retailers. This really is just a small teaser for the lucky few with fast fingers and time-to-spare, as the number of cases will not make even the smallest dent in demand. We've been told that by the end of September, there will be adequate volume available, at which time we will have Wee Beastie to purchase in-store and online. We will keep you updated through our usual channels (newsletter, website, social media) as soon as this happens.
Apparently the stock has been divided equally among several retailers (so much for being an Ardbeg Embassy...) but the bulk of the stock is expected to be available by the end of September.
Personally, I can't understand under current circumstances, and with so many fans still awash with disappointment from not getting an Ardbeg Blaaack release, why the local distributor would opt to release the little bit of stock now, instead of waiting just a matter of weeks. Surely, in the meantime, the limited stock could have been used for marketing events (online tastings anyone?) and for bars who desperately need support after 5 months of closure?
Since we only have a dozen or so bottles, making them available for sale will only leave more customers with a bitter taste in their mouth. So instead we are opting to rather use the bottles we have in our bar and for some online activities, starting with this: Simply confess your love for Ardbeg in the comments below, and one lucky commentator will win a bottle of Wee Beastie! (Only SA residents, 18 and older, eligible to win. Entries close on 31 August at midnight.)
Until then, we leave you with some tasting notes and the latest cool marketing video...
OFFICIAL TASTING NOTES
Nose: The first sniff alerts you to a nearby presence… heightened senses are filled with very bright, fresh herbal notes, with creeping hints of vanilla and pear. Rich Turkish coffee mingles with sappy pine resin, with honey-glazed ham lurking in the background. With water, more herbal top notes like vetiver and fennel captivate and pull you in, while beguiling scents of aniseed, green apple and leather cause you to drop your guard. Out of nowhere, a sharp tang of smoke and a crack of fresh black pepper fire warning shots across the senses.
Palate: Suddenly, a rich, explosive mouthfeel bursts forth with chocolate, creosote and tar. A powerful blast of eucalyptus thrashes about with antiseptic lozenges and aniseed. The raw, smoky intensity gathers pace, before smoked bacon and savoury meats sink into the palate.
Finish: The long, salty mouthcoating finish retreats, with hints of cocoa and fudge slinking slowly away.